ST. PETERSBURG — The Tampa Bay Rays talk constantly about the need to balance the present and the future.
They hoped they did just that in a blockbuster deal with the Royals announced late Sunday.
Pitchers James Shields and Wade Davis, who played key roles in recent seasons, were traded for four players the Rays are banking on in coming years: blue-chip outfield prospect Wil Myers and three other prospects, right-hander Jake Odorizzi, left-hander Mike Montgomery and third baseman Patrick Leonard.
"We're always trying to thread the needle," executive vice president Andrew Friedman said. "As an organization, we rely more on contributions of our young players than basically anyone else in baseball. And with this trade, we're hoping to replenish our system and add a lot of players we feel like can help us sustain this run of success that we've had for the last five years."
None of the three advanced prospects are guaranteed to be on the opening day roster, but Friedman said he would expect all to contribute during the season.
The prize in the deal is Myers, who was the consensus minor-league player of the year after hitting a combined .314 with 37 homers, 109 RBIs and a .987 on-base plus slugging percentage between the Royals' Double- and Triple-A teams. Myers, who turns 22 today, is a 6-foot-3, 205-pound right-handed masher with the athleticism to play centerfield.
"Wil Myers is a guy that has a chance to hit in the middle of a lineup," Friedman said, with a chance to "develop into a good outfielder."
Odorizzi, 22, made it to the majors in September was ranked the Royals' fifth-best prospect by Baseball America. Montgomery, 23, was ranked their No. 1 prospect, ahead of Myers, going into 2012, but had a second straight rough season. Leonard, 20, was a 2011 draft pick who played at rookie-level Burlington last season with signs of big power.
Friedman said he wasn't planning to trade two pitchers but the deal moved in that direction as talks, which started in October, gained traction Thursday and Friday.
"Personally I think this is the most difficult trade we've made to date," he said. "Both guys were drafted and developed here, they've been key players in this organization's turnaround and they're both really high-quality people. It's a painful loss for our club, but I'm confident in our resilience and the talent that will be returning to the field next season."
Shields, who turns 31 this month, has been a Ray his entire pro career, joining the rotation in 2006 and emerging as the leader of the staff. He is the team's all-time leader with 87 wins, 217 starts, 1,250 strikeouts and 1,454 2/3 innings.
Shields had spoken openly about wanting to spend his entire career with the Rays, but with steady trade rumors over the past several seasons, he knew his time could be running out.
"I thought I might be able to squeeze in one more year, but that was kind of being selfish," Shields said Sunday. "I'm excited to go over there, but this is definitely a sad day for me and my family. I've been here 12 years. We made this our second home, and we're definitely going to miss it. I have a lot of good memories here and the fans treated me as good as possible."
Davis, 27, was moved to the bullpen last season and responded well, primarily in a middle-relief role, going 3-0, 2.43 in 54 appearances with 87 strikeouts in 70 innings.
"He was extremely selfless last year in moving to the bullpen, but his true calling is as a starter," Friedman said.
The trade nets the Rays at least $20 million in savings, including the $13.05 million Shields ($10.25 million) and Davis ($2.8 million) were to make this season. At the least, they also would have owed Shields a $1 million buyout on his 2014 option, and Davis a $4.8 million salary in 2014 and a $2.5 million buyout on the first of his three options (which total $25 million).
Team president Matt Silverman said they are "constantly monitoring" their financial situation — which he compared to being "balanced on the head of a pin," with no margin for error — and while acknowledging "there's certainly some savings" said the deal was not financially motivated.
With Shields and Davis traded, the Rays have a starting core of Cy Young Award winner David Price, Jeremy Hellickson, Matt Moore, Jeff Niemann (who is coming off injury), Alex Cobb and Chris Archer, plus Odorizzi.
Myers was considered a first-round talent in 2009 but dropped to the third round due to a $2 million asking price (with an offer to attend South Carolina), and he switched from catching to the outfield after the 2010 season.
Odorizzi made his way to the majors last season after going 15-5, 3.03 between Double-A Northwest Arkansas and Triple-A Omaha and was 0-1, 4.91 in two September starts. A 2008 supplemental first-round pick by Milwaukee, he was considered the Brewers' top pitching prospect when traded to the Royals in the December 2010 Zack Greinke deal.
"We feel like he has the chance to be one of five in a really good major-league rotation," Friedman said, citing his makeup and variety of pitches.
Montgomery, 23, was ranked the Royals' top overall prospect, even ahead of Myers, going into the 2012 season. But the 6-foot-4 left-hander with a blazing fastball had a disappointing season, going 5-12, 6.07 in 27 starts between Double and Triple A, allowing 179 hits and 64 walks in 1492/3 innings. That after a rough 2011 season at Omaha, going 5-11, 5.32.
"There are some things we feel we can help him with, that he will fit in very well with our development system," Friedman said. "He's a guy that has a lot of upside … with a lot of good ingredients to get major-league hitters out."
Marc Topkin can be reached at [email protected]